Staff Sgt. Elvis Umanzor
4th IBCT, 3rd Inf. Div., Public Affairs
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (July 6, 2013) – U.S. service members have been in combat operations in Afghanistan since September 2001, and along the way they have faced many colossal obstacles and experiences like death, separation, and physical and mental weariness.
On Forward Operating Base Shank in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. service members use many of the services like the Morale Welfare and Recreation centers, chaplain services and the Austin Resiliency Center to relax and unwind from the daily stresses of serving in a hostile combat zone.
U.S. Army chaplains, Capt. Mickey Basham, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, chaplain from Nashville, Tenn., and Capt. Travis Hairston, the 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion chaplain from Lufkin, Texas, both with 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, had a vision to expand and remodel a coffee house into a resiliency area for Soldiers to unwind.
The ARC was completed and dedicated June 15, in memory of U.S. Army Pfc. Barrett Austin, an Easley, S.C., native assigned to 4th BSTB, who died April 21, in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries caused by an improvised explosive device April 17, in Wardak province, Afghanistan, while in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It’s a place to mentally checkout for a little bit and get away from what you are doing constantly,” said U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Amy Alger, a trauma surgeon with the forward surgical team supporting 4th IBCT, also known as the Vanguard Brigade.
Alger, a Chapel Hill, N.C., resident said there are many ways to cope and when things build up, “you don’t want to be at the place where you constantly deal with a bad situation.”
“Getting to the resiliency center makes it like you are getting away from that … kind of like a mental vacation,” she added “Plus you are around people who can actually understand what you are dealing with.”
U.S. Army Spc. Jameson Liner, a Columbus, Ga., native and the chaplain’s assistant for 4-3 BSTB, uses his high spirit and smile to invite people to the resiliency center, especially when people are having a bad day.
“If you can make someone laugh, you can change their day around,” Liner said.
The ARC features music, cigar smoking, bonfires, indoor and outdoor movie showings, refreshments, snacks, and a small room, known as the Free-X, where Soldiers can get free supplies they might not be able to find at the local exchange.
“It’s really grown to a wonderful place for Soldiers to take a deep breath,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andre Gambrell, a Philadelphia native and the 4th IBCT chaplain’s assistant.
Other services on FOB Shank include medical services like the Combat Stress Center and Concussion Care Center.
U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Baskin, a fire support specialist, went on 50 missions and conducted patrols where he was engaged by enemy fire on multiple occasions in Wardak province, while assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT, but it wasn’t until he was inside the safety of his combat patrol base that he experienced his closest call.
After being within 10 meters of the impact area of enemy indirect fire on June 20, Baskin was evacuated to the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th IBCT, medical facility on FOB Shank and was diagnosed with having a mild concussion.
Being on his first deployment away from his wife and two boys, Baskin had also experienced the death of a fellow soldier from his unit, U.S. Army Spc. Ray Ramirez, of Sacramento, Calif., who died June 1, in Wardak province, from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device.
Remembering the day Ramirez passed away, Baskin said, “I just remember my heart dropping when the medics on the ground said there were no vital signs.”
While on FOB Shank, Baskin, of Manassas, Va., said he couldn’t sleep and was having a hard time concentrating.
He was then seen by U.S. Army Capt. Karl Umbrasas, a Savannah, Ga., resident and the Vanguard Brigade psychologist, and U.S. Army Capt. Donald Chase, a San Jose, Calif., native and an occupational therapist managing the Concussive Care Center, one of three in Afghanistan.
Baskin had a great experience with Umbrasas and Chase. He said they were very helpful, providing plenty of time to rest, conducting cognitive exercises, and talking about topics not focused on negative experiences. Baskin said he has bounced back and will continue to move forward to support his family, who were also a great help in his recovery.
Soldiers serving across the globe endure similar challenges, and their ability to face such obstacles and continue to charge forward is a testament that these warriors are physically and mentally tough. Senior leaders at all levels strive to ensure service members stay physically and mentally tough to prevent serious incidents from occurring and help those who have experienced traumatic events, to recover.
Umbrasas added, “Everyone is on board, from the lowest level.”
Staff Sgt. Elvis Umanzor
4th IBCT, 3rd Inf. Div., Public Affairs
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Aug. 14, 2013) – U.S. combat engineers with Company A, 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, have cleared many miles of terrain from improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance placed by the enemies of Afghanistan, since arriving in Wardak and Logar provinces earlier this year.
In their first few weeks they were tested many times by the enemy as the traditional fighting season began.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Billington, from Syracuse, N.Y., and a squad leader with 1st Platoon, Co. A, said the unit conducted more than one hundred missions, over half of which involved encountering an IED or UXO.
As combat engineers, Billington and his comrades routinely conduct dismounted and mounted route clearance patrols. “If there is an area where we think there’s possibly an IED, we will scan the area for them,” he said.
Once they detect a threat, the dangerous roadside IEDs and pressure plate IEDs that target military and civilians alike, they blow-in-place, a term used to describe the elimination of the threat by a controlled explosion, one of a combat engineers’ favorite jobs.
U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Carver, a McDough, Ga., native and a combat engineer with 1st Platoon, said he enjoys dismounted patrols and blowing-in-place. “I like being on the ground, it’s better than sitting in the truck all day.”
“If we can help defeat IEDs, we can help civilians from being hit by IEDs,” added Carver, who’s on his first combat tour.
The RCPs not only help keep the citizens safe, but also help improve the safe movement of Coalition and Afghan forces who conduct operations to disrupt enemy activity and foster relationships with local citizens.
On a recent mission to support the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th IBCT, the combat engineers lead the way to ensure safe passage.
“The plan was just to clear for the ‘cav’ guys so they could do their population engagement,” Billington said, “sounded a lot easier than it ended up being.”
The patrol struck an IED, leaving one of their vehicles inoperable, followed by enemy fire. The 6-8 Cav. sent a quick reaction force to respond and it was struck by another IED. A recovery operation was initiated, and as a wrecker arrived on the scene, another IED went off.
After a long fire fight, 10 IED explosions, and two enemy fighters killed during a 40 hour period, all the Soldiers with 4th IBCT returned safely to base, a true testament to Task Force Vanguard’s concept of a team of teams.
U.S. Army Pvt. Juan Toralba, from Denver, Co., and an infantryman with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT, along with a small group of infantrymen routinely provide extra security as a response to comparable situations.
U.S. Army Spc. Jesse Powell, from Guyton, Ga., and a combat engineer with 1st Platoon, said, “I’m always thinking about getting back.” But, he makes sure his explosive charges, radios, and weapon systems are ready for a long mission. “We always plan for three to four days, just in case,” he added.
To ensure the success of the mission, U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Slabinski, a Detroit, Mich., native and combat engineer with 1st Platoon, said he makes sure his team is fully mission capable and conducts the proper inspections on the Soldiers, vehicles and equipment.
Their equipment, the Husky Vehicle Mounted Mine Detector being one type of vehicle, is very important for combat engineers and something they rely on to find the well hidden dangers.
“The Husky …helps detect mines and any kind of ground placed IED,” Slabinski said.
As U.S Forces stay committed to a better future of Afghanistan, combat engineers with Task Force Vanguard continue to clear the roads, despite the dangerous obstacles they face.
“They’re just a great group of guys,” said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Bradley Buss, a Media, Ill., native and a platoon leader with Company A. “They’ve been through a lot and they’ve really just come together as a team and overcame everything that has been thrown at them.”
4-3 BSTB hosts brigade-level mentorship ride
Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger
4th IBCT, 3rd Inf. Div.
The vibration of the throttle under the left hand; the roar of the pipes; the backward pull of the body after the clutch engages the next gear—these are only the first few of the many sensations a motorcycle in motion injects into a rider.
For some, motorcycling is the preferred method of air conditioning used for beating Georgia’s heat.
An increasing number of Soldiers are choosing to embrace the sensation and beat the heat by commuting and recreating with motorcycles. While the mode of transportation is equal parts exhilarating and economical, the combined level of risk is high.
Soldiers who operate motorcycles are at an increased risk for sustaining accidents and injuries versus their chances when driving standard automobiles. For this reason, training Soldiers to ride motorcycles to arrive alive is paramount.
The 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, acknowledged the necessity of training inexperienced motorcycle riders—and reinforcing safe riding techniques for experienced riders—Aug. 29 by hosting “Vanguard Thunder,” a brigade-level motorcycle mentorship ride.
During the 150-mile safety ride, organized by Sgt. 1st Class Curtis E. Oxendine, battalion motorcycle mentor for 4-3 BSTB, inexperienced riders were paired with experienced mentors from within their units to allow leaders to assess their Soldier’s strengths and weaknesses while riding in a formation. Thorough motorcycle inspections and hands-on instructional classes held before and during the ride served as the glue that bound the various safety lessons together.
Ninety-four “Vanguard” Soldiers participated in the ride.
Sgt. 1st Class Latee C. Dubose, a telecommunications operations chief assigned to Company C, 4-3 BSTB, said the event was important because it was held within the brigade’s 90-day redeployment reintegration period.
The 4th IBCT redeployed in June from a 12-month tour in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
“You have a lot of young Soldiers who are coming back from [the] deployment who [are purchasing] motorcycles,” Dubose said. “This gave them the opportunity to ride on the road with fellow Soldiers and be in a controlled environment.”
Lt. Col. George E. Lewis III, commander of 4-3 BSTB, and a motorcycle rider who participated in “Vanguard Thunder,” said the ride was the culmination of the safety training the brigade’s motorcycle operators have received from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course and through safety classes held at the company and battalion levels.
“[Motorcycle safety is] good for the individual Soldier, … it’s good for the military community to have safe riders, and [it’s good for] the community at large because our guys are riding out there every day,” Lewis said. “If the community knows that we’re doing what we can to be safe, hopefully they’re doing the same thing.”
The battalion commander said he hoped the event encouraged unseasoned motorcycle riders to reach out to their experienced battle buddies or mentors whenever they have questions about safe motorcycle operation.
Like Dubose, Lewis said he also believed that “Vanguard Thunder” was scheduled at the right time; he said that it was especially important that the brigade focused on motorcycle safety before Labor Day weekend kicked off.
“‘Vanguard’ is proud to sponsor this kind of event [and] to support [the division’s] initiatives in motorcycle safety,” Lewis said.